Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Gluttony and philosophical moderation in Plato's “Republic”
by Hintze, Hannah, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2009, 336; 3387057
Abstract (Summary)

Throughout the Republic, Socrates explicitly and frequently compares eating, drinking, feasting and all the appetites that go along with these activities to thinking and its aims. In this dissertation, I offer an account of this thoroughgoing use of the "appetite analogy." As I argue, Socrates' intentional comparison of the desire to eat and drink and the desire to know raises the caution that thinking, like feasting, may be susceptible to its own kind of gluttony (pleonexia of the lichnos) and may require its own kind of moderation.

Chapter One introduces the main questions of this thesis with a detailed examination of one famous case of appetitiveness, Glaucon's request for relishes (opson) in Book II. A taste for fancier, more dignified, and more various food requires a new, longer speech (368e-374a) and raises the question of excess in logos, too.

In Chapters Two and Three, I begin a detailed investigation of the first half of the appetite analogy, ordinary appetite (epithumia) and moderation (sōphrosunē), while Chapters Four and Five consider the second half of the analogy, philosophical epithumia and the possibility of philosophical sōphrosunē . More specifically, Chapter Two treats the arguments of Book IV that discuss epithumia directly and schematically. I argue that ordinary epithumia tends towards pleonexia, the desire for more and more. This thesis is so uncontroversial that one could easily fail to press on to consider an important logical consequence: Where the goals of ever-changing desire are obscured, the attempt to satisfy even the lowest appetites becomes a problem not only of self-restraint but of self-knowledge as well. sōphrosunē is the Republic's answer to this difficult problem. In Chapter Three, I argue that sōphrosunē is a more active virtue than it is often taken to be by readers of the Republic who highlight the Republic's censorship and banishment of low desires (and the things that inspire and nourish them).

Chapter Four considers the philosophical appetites of the guardians and philosopher-kings, as well as Socrates' proposals for their intellectual nurture (trophē). If, as I suggest, the middle books of the Republic present an exaggerated portrait of philosophical completeness that nevertheless precludes an understanding of the whole that would be necessary for real wisdom, perhaps Plato intends for us to look elsewhere (to Books IX-X, in fact) for a more moderate expression of the incomplete but indispensable satisfactions of thinking. Chapter Five addresses these questions directly, through a consideration of a panoply of heroes and anti-heroes, including Cephalus and the unnamed tyrant of Book X, Socrates and Thrasymachus, Er, and Odysseus. Through the consideration of these characters in the light of the argument of the preceding chapters, several points will become clear: The tyrant is the perfect glutton, a stay-at-home gourmand. Philosophers can be gluttons too: Plato presents Socrates and Thrasymachus in Book I as similarly proto-tyrannical in their gluttony for speeches. The second half of the chapter treats the myth of Er in detail, with particular attention to Odysseus as a figure of rational sōphrosunēs. Er is similarly moderate. The unnamed tyrannical soul in the myth bears a great resemblance to Cephalus. This resemblance, I argue, may help us finally to distinguish the philosopher and the tyrant and to see how the former can avoid the perfect gluttony of the latter. I argue that although the philosopher's acknowledged partial and provisional knowledge is not entirely satisfying, it is nonetheless indispensable to any thinker who wants to avoid tyrannical gluttony.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kass, Leon R.
Commitee: Lear, Jonathan, Roochnik, David
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Social Thought
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Classical studies, Philosophy, Classical Studies
Keywords: Epithumia, Eros, Gluttony, Moderation, Plato, Republic
Publication Number: 3387057
ISBN: 978-1-109-52917-3
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